Why AARP Is Not Worth Joining in 2019

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There are three things you can count on: death, taxes and receiving a membership pitch from the AARP the day you turn 50. From travel and dining discounts to exclusive insurance partnerships, AARP offers a ton of benefits. But you might be able to find the same (or better) discounts without a membership.

AARP is primarily a marketing organization that makes the bulk of its revenue off royalties from selling its members insurance. This coupled with their political lobbying has put many members off.

Still, if you like free Dunkin’ Donuts or you are planning a road trip across the US, a membership might still be worth it.

Despite senior organization competitors popping up recently, AARP still offers by far the most benefits and partnerships due to the size of its member base. We’ll highlight the best discounts as well as some under the radar perks to help you decide.

AARP Membership Fees

The annual membership fee is $16. If you have a partner or spouse, they can join for free. After the first year, you receive a 25% discount if you renew (the new annual fee becomes $12).

AARP also offers incentive discounts if you commit to multi-year memberships. If you commit to a three-year membership, the total is $43 (a savings of $1.67 a year). If you commit to a five-year membership, you pay $63 (a savings of $3.40 a year).

For a while, Walgreen’s was running a free AARP with a $15 purchase promotion. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but that offer has expired.

AARP Age Minimum

One of the most common questions we get is, can I join the AARP if I’m under 50. Yes, you can! While most members are in their golden years, there’s no minimum age to join. In fact, many millennials join to take advantage of the AARP/British Airways promo, a very generous flight discount for international travelers that we’ll cover below. However, most hotel and car rental partners technically require you to be 50+ or 65+ to get the discount.

AARP Benefits

We’ll highlight the best discounts below, but you’re probably not going to take advantage of every single one (though we’d be impressed if you did!

If you’re debating whether or not to become a member, we encourage you to try to identify one or two rewards that you will actually use (without going out of your way). Will those discounts save you over $16 a year? If so, the membership has paid for itself.

AARP Travel Deals

If you log a lot of miles on the road or in the sky, AARP’s travel discounts, ranging from hotel rooms to rental cars, might come in handy.

AARP and British Airways Promotion

When it comes to flight deals, what AARP lacks in quantity, they make up for in quality. That’s because they only have a relationship with one airline: British Airways. While not everyone flies BA, we are pretty impressed with this discount. Senior flight discounts are few are far between these days. Most of the ones you read about are long discontinued. We know because we called each carrier to verify and came up with only two airlines that actually offer cheaper fares: BA and Southwest.

AARP members get:

  • $65 off World Traveller (economy) tickets
  • $130 off World Traveller Plus (premium economy) tickets
  • $200 off Club World (business class) and First Class tickets

Don’t fly BA often?. No problem. The discount is eligible for BA codeshare partners including American Airlines, Iberia and Finnair.

The promotion is valid for all flights taking place before December 31, 2020. That said, BA has worked with AARP for at least five years to run some variation of this promotion, so it’s likely to stick around. To get the discount, you need to book through the AARP section of the British Airways site. Enter the promo code AARP2019 at checkout and look for a confirmation message (it should appear as red text).

AARP and Expedia

In 2008, AARP partnered with Expedia to offer members discounts through the AARP booking site. Some deals include:

  • Up to 10% off select hotels
  • Up to 30% off select car rentals
  • Up to $300 extra onboard credit on select cruises
  • 5% rebate (up to $350) on eligible group hotel bookings
  • No booking fees!
    No fees for hotel changes or cancellations from AARP Travel Center powered by Expedia

One of the biggest benefits of the AARP-Expedia partnership is, you don’t need to pay booking fees, which typically run $25. Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi explained that they were aware AARP members are budget conscious and wanted to accommodate them by not tacking on fees.

Unlike a lot of AARP offers, you do need to be a member to qualify for the travel discounts. We do want to warn you that Expedia doesn’t exactly have a sterling reputation when it comes to customer service. Expedia earned a paltry 1.5 out of 5 stars Customers routinely report that Expedia can’t resolve very simple billing or ticketing errors. This is a case where discounts might not be worth the headache.

AARP Hotel Discounts

AARP really shines when it comes to discounts on car rentals and hotels. Members can enjoy 20% off at hotels like the Best Western, Hilton, Waldorf Astoria and Wyndham.

They offer discount partnerships with over fifty hotel brands, including the following:

If you can take longer vacations, a great under-the-radar deal is AARP’s partnership with Endless Vacations. Members receive a 25% discount off already reduced off-season condo rentals. Prices start a $343 for renting for a week.

AARP Car Rentals

  • 30% off Avis
  • 30% off Budget
  • 5% off Payless Car Rental Zipcar

I checked the AARP member-exclusive prices for a five day rental of an economy car and found the cheapest option to be $41/day. Oddly, when I unchecked the “AARP member exclusive” option, the Expedia search engine returned cheaper cars at $25/day. So take these discounts with a grain of salt and always shop around.

AARP Cruises

Last but not least, AARP has partnerships with all the major cruise carriers like Norwegian, Celebrity, Princess and Carnival. The promotions change depending on availability, so you’ll need check throughout the year to nab the best deals. You can find travel packages by logging onto the AARP Travel Center Powered by Expedia.

When we logged in, Royal Caribbean was offering 50% off a guest ticket, and Carnival offered a free room upgrade.

We just listed a bevy of benefits, but keep in mind that AARP’s discounts are not the only game in town. Many hotels and restaurants offer senior discounts without requiring an AARP membership. For example, Marriott offers a 15% discount to seniors who are older than 60 years and Motel 6 offers a 10% discount.

In fact, some of AARP’s publicized hotel partners offer their own senior discount program that doesn’t even require you have a membership. Choice Hotel offers seniors 10% even without an AARP membership. Best Western, another advertised AARP partner, also offers a 15% discount to everyone who is 55 or older.

Given how many hotel chains already offer senior discounts, we think the AARP hotel discounts are redundant. On the other hand, the British Airways promotion is one of the best we’ve seen, so it would be worth joining just for that flight special.

Pro Tip: If you’re already a AAA member, it’s probably not worth also getting an AARP membership. The two organizations offer similar discounts and rewards.

In addition, many hotels and car rental companies (including ones that AARP advertises as partners) offer in-house senior programs that don’t require an AARP membership.
Alamo: Senior Circle discount program
Hertz: 50+ Car Rental Program (50+) offers up to 20% discounts
InterContinental Hotels Group: Various senior discounts (62+)
Marriott Hotels: 15% off (62+)

AARP Restaurant Discounts

We’re not going to mince words: AARP’s restaurant discounts are pretty lame. They have discounts with approximately 15 restaurants. Considering that over 50 restaurants offer senior discounts (no membership required), we don’t recommend signing up solely for the food deals.

Pro-Tip: Pro Tip: Many members falsely assume their discount will be automatically applied. Remember to explicitly ask your server for your discount. AARP actually tells members to bring their AARP ID to make sure they are able to get the discount rates.

AARP Entertainment Deals

  • Regal Movie Theater: 20% off movie tickets (you have to purchase them online)
  • Ticketmaster: A variety of promotions offered through the AARP-Ticketmaster portal. When we checked, they were offering 25% off Stars on Ice tickets, 4-Pack tickets to Hamilton in Chicago and 10% off the Blue Man Group Las Vegas.
  • AARP Games
    • Another under-publicized gem, AARP offers over a dozen onlines games like crossword puzzles, solitaire and mah-jong. There are a few online that are only open to members

AARP Chase Rewards Card

If you dine out often, AARP has a cash-back rewards card that might get you some hefty points. While it’s not the most generous rewards card we’ve seen, it doesn’t carry an annual fee so there’s no harm in trying it out. The rewards card is open to everyone, not just members.

The Good

  • 3% cash back rewards on restaurant
  • 3% cash back from gas stations
  • 1% cash back rewards on all other purchases
  • $100 cash back after spending $500 in the first 3 months
  • No annual fee

The Bad

  • 3% Foreign Transaction Fee: this card isn’t great for travel-happy retirees

There’s also a charitable component to the card. Whenever you use your card at a restaurant, AARP will donate $.10 to the Drive to End Hunger fund.

Savvy members stack AARP points with other rewards. For example, Walgreens gives an additional 50 Rewards points for every $1 you spend. You also get 1,000 points for vaccinations.

AARP Rewards for Good

AARP rolled out a rewards program that’s built to engage their community more. Don’t confuse this initiative for their rewards card program: you don’t need to make any purchases to get points.

Instead, you earn points by taking various quizzes, using their financial calculators and watching webinars on the AARP site. AARP is using the program to drive more engagement and traffic to their site. After all, more involved users means more loyal users. Just look for the Rewards for Good badges on the site to see what actions you can take.

Our favorite feature is, you can now earn points by exercising. Just connect a Fitbit (a device you wear on your wrist to tracks the number of steps you take) to your Rewards Account and it’ll convert your steps to points.

Redeeming Points

  • You redeem points by bidding for items in a “live auction” format. Prizes include a $15 Subway gift cards a $15 tile GPS tracker, and a 32gb Apple TV ($125), Carnival and Royal Caribbean gift cards (which are very in demand). One member even found he could redeem points for nights at the Sheraton hotel.
  • Some members complain that the rewards themselves aren’t very good. The program is really similar to Verizon’s rewards program, which also gets a number of complaints for the poor quality and range of prizes. (Both rewards programs are run by Destination Rewards.)

AARP Tax Aide

AARP runs Tax-Aide, a national program staffed by volunteers who helps seniors prepare their taxes for free.

From Feb 1 to April 15th, you can schedule an appointment at a Tax-Aide location (typically located in libraries, churches and community centers) and get someone to help file your taxes for you. Volunteers are certified by the IRS and their work is double checked by a coworker, so you know you’re in good hands.

As long as your tax needs aren’t too complex, volunteers can help you prepare federal and state taxes. When we say complex, we mean that volunteers can’t help if you need to report rental income, Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), or need to file a Schedule K-1.

You need to bring with you:

  • Passport, residence card or a driver’s license
  • W-2 and any earnings statements you have
  • If you receive dividends, be sure to get a statement from your brokerage
  • A copy of the previous year’s returns

Tax-Aide doesn’t take walk-ins. You need to book an appointment ahead of time at the location nearest to you. They are quite popular so don’t wait until April to call them.

Pro-Tip: You don’t need to be an AARP member to get help with your tax prep. In fact, you don’t even need to be fifty or over. Anyone can take advantage of this program. To find the location closest to you, call 888-227-7669.

AARP Insurance Programs

AARP does not directly provide insurance. Instead, it partners with third-party insurers like New York Life and The Hartford to offer members exclusive deals. In return, AARP collects royalty payments for every insurance policy they sell.

The insurance products they offer include:

  • Life insurance through New York Life Insurance Company
  • Car insurance through The Hartford
  • Homeowners/renters insurance through The Hartford
  • Dental Insurance through Delta Dental Insurance Company
  • Vision insurance, through EyeMed: Members pay $55 for eye exams and save on eyeglasses at LensCrafters, Sears Optical and Target Optical

Pro-Tip: You should call in to get AARP insurance quotes. We recommend shopping around for the lowest insurance.

AARP Medicare Supplement

AARP’s UnitedHealthcare Medicare Supplement Plan is one of the better options out there.

If you’re on the market for Medigap insurance, we think could be well worth paying the $16 fee to access these plans. And yes, in this case, you do need to be a member to qualify for the plan.

This is because UnitedHealthcare has an exclusive partnership with AARP where they make the plan only available to members. AARP collects a royalty for each member that joins, which is why some criticize AARP as being more a marketing company than a senior association.

Despite this marketing arrangement, we still like AARP/UHC’s Medigap plans for two reasons:

  • 1) According to Medicare experts, AARP/UnitedHealthcare plans are some of the cheapest available.
  • 2) Unlike other insurers who charge expensive premiums on health and age, AARP/UHC charges the same premiums to all policyholders, regardless of age, gender or health. This means these plans are ideal for older people who might have health conditions and who would otherwise be charged a premium.

We did our own insurance-shopping, comparing the AARP/UnitedHealthcare Plan F (the most full-cover plan offered) in California. Granted this is only one data point, but we indeed found it to be one of the most affordable options. AARP/UnitedHealthcare costs $185 a month for a non-smoker. It was a lot cheaper than the Aetna plan ($246), but not the cheapest plan we found. That award goes to United of Omaha, clocking in at $118 a month.

AARP Pharmacy Discounts

AARP partners with OptumRx to offer members prescription discounts at in-network pharmacies including CVS, Kroger, Rite Aid, and Walgreens. They also offer home-delivery.

OptumRx claims that members save an average of 61% on FDA-approved prescriptions not covered by their current insurance. You can get an estimate of how much your drug costs from the pricing tool on their site.

Think twice before joining OptumRx. We found very negative reviews from disgruntled members. Among other issues, their customer service leaves much to be desired. Many members say they were left on the phone for hours, unable to reach a representative who could address their billing issue. (OptumRx’s customer service department is staffed by a remote call center in India).

One frustrated member writes, “I just had another nightmare experience with OptumRX. Without a doubt, they are the most woefully inadequately run business ever. Hours on the phone with people who cannot answer questions. Here was my question…would you please email me instead of calling me when you need prior approval? The answer was ‘I’m not sure.’”

Another member echoes a similar complaint, saying, “I have just had yet another unpleasant, time-consuming and frustrating experience on the phone with Optum. In the last 2 months, there have been so many, it has consumed a total of 20 hours, with no resolutions. After spending yet another hour on the phone with UHC trying to straighten out a mess Optum made of my blood pressure meds, I gave up.”

Pro-Tip: GoodRX offers a similar discount service and you don’t need to be a member to qualify.

Reasons Not to Join AARP

We’ve highlighted some of the main benefits of purchasing an AARP membership, but you should know that it’s not all roses.

The two biggest complaints about the AARP from current members are:

  1. They aggressively advertise promotions to members (and collect royalties on what you buy)
  2. They spend a lot of money on lobbying for issues like supporting Obamacare. Some members disagree with AARP’s liberal-leaning political positions, opting to leave for conservative alternatives to the AARP like the AMAC

Pushy Advertising

Although it is a nonprofit, AARP operates a pro-profit subsidiary called AARP Services. This subsidiary makes money from selling member information to companies. As a result, companies like Consumer Cellular and Jitterbug constantly bombard members with ads.

Receiving a lot of junk mail is a common complaint amongst AARP members, some of whom are taking to message boards to complain. (We’ll go over member reviews below).

AARP Lobbying

Even though AARP is a non-profit, they are also one of the country’s largest lobbying firms. They are technically a 501(c)(4) entity, which allows them to spend up to half their revenue on lobbying. In 2008, they racked up nearly $28 million in lobbying costs, putting it behind only the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Exxon Mobil in spending.

They are an advocacy group for seniors and this is reflected in the issues they push for. Among their priorities are updating Social Security, encouraging retirement savings, and managing the costs of prescription drugs and long-term care.

However, it is their stance on healthcare that has landed them in hot water with some seniors.

AARP Supported Obamacare

The Wall Street Journal published an editorial that claims the AARP lent a lot of behind the scenes support to passing Obamacare. They supported the bill despite the fact that Obamacare was overwhelmingly unpopular amongst seniors. In a report to the White House on July 28, 2009, the AARP reported that 4,174 of its members opposed Obamacare and 36 supported it.

How much the AARP’s politics deter you from joining is obviously a personal decision. But we wanted to highlight some of their lobbying efforts because many members have left the AARP for the AMAC in protest.

AARP Member Reviews

Members are split down the middle on their opinion about AARP:  47 people left five-star reviews and 34 people left one-star reviews one Sitejabber, a review aggregator.

The most common member complaint is about the sheer amount of marketing that AARP pushes to its members. AARP generates most of its profits from insurance commissions. So they have a strong financial incentive to get you to buy their financial and insurance products, even if the products are subpar.

  • One member writes, “I agree with others who have posted saying that AARP is primarily a marketing organization. Unfortunately, we have friends who don’t understand that and purchase products with the AARP name on them believing that AARP has their best interest at heart. I don’t like the fact that an organization pretending to advocate for seniors seems more interested in extracting money from them.”
  • Another member notes the frequent ads he gets in the mail, writing, “One needs only to sign up for AARP Membership to experience, almost immediately, a flood of targeted junk mail in one’s mailbox and email account.”
  • David Fitzgerald (not a retiree) didn’t find much value in his membership. He says, “I finally joined, and after three years, the only real benefit I’ve received is the free doughnuts, whenever I bought a large coffee at Dunk’s when I flashed my card. I have received any number of offers in the mail, and probably over the phone (which I don’t typically answer. Nothing I’ve received really interests me. My current insurance programs are much better.”

Despite the AARP’s aggressive marketing tactics, there are a minority of people who find the $16 membership well worth it for the discounts. But it really depends on which rewards are worth your while.

Here are some of the ways that members take advantage of the discounts:

Current member RiaMax writes, “I use my AARP at Walgreens, Denny’s and Sears for valuable discounts.”

  • Richard Kempf says, “A few perks I use are:
    • 1. Defensive driver course every 3 years yields a $51 per year discount on our 2 car GEICO auto insurance.
    • 2. 15% off our bill at Carrabbas on Wednesdays
    • 3 A free donut with a large coffee at Dunkin Donuts
    • 4. Hotel discounts
    • 5. United Healthcare Medicare supplement insurance”

One member reluctantly praised AARP for their cheap cell phone plans. He says, “I’d hate to join AARP again, but their Consumer Cellular 5% discount pays 150% of the membership fee (on a $30 plan). AMAC, which I would LIKE to join is teamed-up with some run-from-a-basement ClubCellular with crappy old flip phones and used iPhones at high prices. “

Marva Dasef also raves about Consumer Cellular. She writes, “The 10% discount to Consumer Cellular phone service is the best deal in town. At a 10% discount, I’ve more than made up for my AARP membership. There are also discounts which I have taken advantage of (car rental, for example) which have made up for the annual fee.”

We don’t recommend joining both AAA and AARP because the discounts overlap so much. But if you decide to opt out of an AAA membership, you can save money through AARP’s car-rental programs. One member writes, “I still belong in order to take advantage of their discounts, primarily hotel. We have newer vehicles (which include roadside service) and so have no need for AAA.”

And while some people disagree with AARP’s political stance, they begrudgingly keep their membership because the benefits are worth it.

Current member Ged advises, “It might be worth being a member for their Medicare Supplemental insurance or a large number of discount offers (especially hotels) that their affiliates offer. However, be aware they are also politically active and check out that their lobbying efforts before buying.”

Rob posts on a message board, “While I have no interest one way or other in their political activities, their discounts have (on occasion) saved me several times what my membership was. I checked with AAA/AARP and others. There have been times when theirs came out on top. I helped a good friend evaluate Medigap policies (and in 10 years I will be), and AARP seemed to be her best option. The difference there was substantial.”

AARP Competitors

AARP isn’t the only kid on the block. There is a handful of competing senior organizations vying for your membership. The most prominent among the bunch is AMAC, a conservative alternative. The starkest contrast between the two is, whereas AARP supports Obamacare, AMAC adamantly opposes it on the grounds that it cut Medicare to support expanding healthcare for the low-income population.

Politics aside, both organizations profit off their members by selling them things like insurance and roadside assistance and collecting a fee. So they are more alike than not in that respect.

And AMAC reviews are also a mixed bag. Some members complain that, unlike AARP, AMAC doesn’t reveal insurance quotes online. Instead, they force you to call their agent. They also require that you already be a member before they will even tell you the prices. One member asks, “Where is the integrity of AMAC when all these people including me just want a hard copy of the Dental Plan coverage to see if it’s worth signing up for?” Edward Augstein echoes the sentiment, saying, “I don’t need a salesman. I need to see the plans. Lack of info on the site is a BIG red flag.”

On the other hand, many AMAC members are happy to have found a group that aligns with their political beliefs.

We wrote about the various benefits AARP offers versus AMAC to help you compare and contrast the two.

Should You Join?

AARP has built a stellar brand among retirees. But it is questionable how relevant they are in 2019. With some good ole’ internet sleuthing, you can often find plenty of senior discount programs that don’t require a membership.

In our humble opinion, the three compelling reasons to join are:

  • AARP’s flight promotion with British Airways
  • AARP/UnitedHealthcare’s Medicare supplement insurance (you should shop around to make sure it is the best deal for you)
  • Up to 30% discounts with car-rental companies (you don’t need this if you are already an AAA member)

At $16 a year, it’s not a huge financial commitment, but who really needs more junk mail in their life? It’s a bummer that AARP makes money off selling its members insurance and financial products. And in the perfect world, they would be more transparent about it.


1 thought on “Why AARP Is Not Worth Joining in 2019”

  1. I will have to read up on the Medicare Supplement. Sounds like a cheap option, but it almost makes you wonder if they are creating a false sense of scarcity by requiring a membership (and royalty fee) to sign up. That said, supplemental plans are huge in sheltering from traditional Medicare deductibles and coinsurance. The fact that they aren’t penalizing member premiums based on age and health sounds like a great way to pool your risk.

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